The Famine Early Warning Systems Network or FEWSNET said Tuesday that although economic conditions in Zimbabwe are better and food supplies have stabilized, around 1.7 million Zimbabweans will need food aid in the first quarter of this year.
In a new food assessment, FEWSNET said 75 percent of Zimbabweans considered to be food insecure live in rural communities in the semi-arid provinces of Matabeleland North and South and Masvingo, with the rest in urban areas facing high food costs.
FEWSNET also observed that most Zimbabweans are battling to make ends meet due to prevailing low incomes and high levels of unemployment.
To mitigate this situation, the Zimbabwean government will complement aid distributions through cash-for-work programs, the report said, adding that the number of needy will decline sharply in April when maize crops are being harvested.
"While the availability of food is not a constraint to food access, limited purchasing power continues to restrict the ability of very poor and poor households to access enough food," the FEWSNET report said.
Johannesburg-based food assessment specialist Mandla Nkomo told reporter Ntungamili Nkomo that Zimbabwe must boost local production to eliminate food shortages.
"If we look at the average yileds that we are achieving as a country, it's just below a tonne of maize per hectare whereas countries like South Africa are averaging six-and-a-half tonnes," Nkomo said. "So we really need to deal with the issue of production."
Once described as the bread basket of Southern Africa, Zimbabwe has become heavily dependent on food assistance. Most agricultural experts and economists blame the land reform program on which President Robert Mugabe embarked in 2000.